Why Your Freelance Writing Pitches Fail

In journalism, writers learn that all news stories should answer the 5 Ws and 1 H: who, when, where, what, why, and how.  Did you know you can apply the same questions to your freelance writing pitches to identify the primary reasons why those pitches fail?

It’s true!  By simply asking yourself the six primary questions every first year journalism student learns, you can fix fundamental problems in your query style and pitch success rate.

Why do your query letters fail to generate interest in your pitches?  Check out the six basic reasons based on the 5 Ws and 1 H below.

1. You don’t know where you’re pitching.

Before you can develop a story idea and pitch your idea to a publication, you need to understand that publication.  Read that publication and gain an understanding of the needs of that publication.  The editor who reads your query letter is looking for content that will help him or her meet those needs.  In other words, no matter how great your story idea is, if it doesn’t meet the needs of the publication, your query will end up in the trash.

2. You don’t know who you’re pitching.

It is absolutely essential that you understand the audience for the publication that you pitch your story idea to.  If the audience won’t be interested in your story, the publication will have no interest in it either.  Editors look for content that will engage their readers, encourage them to talk about that content with other people, and motivate them to come back for more.  Your pitch needs to demonstrate to an editor that your story can do exactly that.

3. You don’t know when you’re pitching.

Many publications operate using an editorial calendar.  If you can get a copy of the editorial calendar (either from the publication’s website or by requesting a copy from the publication), review it and try to tailor your pitches to match the overall theme of that editorial calendar.  Also, use common sense when pitching a story to match your idea to holidays, seasons, and so on.  Finally, remember that many publications create content weeks or months in advance of the actual publishing date, which could significantly affect when you send a pitch.  In other words, it doesn’t matter how great your story about summer barbecues is if the publication is working on the Christmas issue.

4. You don’t know what you’re pitching.

Your pitch should be clear, concise and compelling.  Delete all extraneous information from your query letter, and lead with the most captivating part of your story.  Be relevant immediately.  Editors have very little time to read a full page query letter.  If your pitch doesn’t jump off the page within the first few sentences, you’ve wasted your time.  Instead, be specific and get to the point quickly!

5. You don’t know why you need help.

There is a rule that writers can’t always follow, but you should stick to it when it comes to query letters and pitches.  That rule is — never proofread your own work.  However, when it comes to pitches, the rule extends beyond simple proofreading.  It’s difficult to look at your own query letter and pitches objectively, because you know the entire story.  To ensure your query letters are truly clear, concise, compelling, and specific, it helps to have an objective eye review and comment on them.  If you belong to a writer’s group, ask the other members to read and critique your query letter before you send it.  Their feedback could help turn a boring query letter into a successful pitch!  If you don’t belong to a writer’s group or have access to other writers or editors, join an online forum like AbsoluteWrite.com where you can share your work for review and feedback.

6. You don’t know how you’re pitching.

Before you send a query letter, you need to be certain that you’re sending it to the right place, to the right person, and in the right format.  Most publications have rules that you need to follow or your query letter will go straight to the trash can before anyone reads a single word of it.  Check the publication’s website or contact the publication to request a copy of the current writer’s guidelines and submission guidelines, and then follow those rules to the letter.  You can also get a copy of the most recent edition of Writer’s Market for quick access to various publication guidelines, but keep in mind, even the most recent edition of Writer’s Market might not be 100% current as it’s only published once per year.

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4 responses
  1. Anita Avatar

    Love the tips, Susan. Thanks!

  2. Carol Avatar

    Great post…I like to sum up this problem as “You don’t know enough to know what you don’t know.”

  3. Neil Avatar

    Thanks from me too, Susan. I’m trying to break into the nationals and so far my proposals seem to be falling on deaf ears (or empty desks). I think I may need to look at points 4 & 5!

  4. Amin Avatar

    How is the shape of America under the stain glass of pro and con alleged proliferaters, yet they are supportive institute hypocrites of the very things they speak against?

    Behind close doors reality dictates even the most proclaim super righteous or elite power in opposition of neo-colonist practices, yet fail to make the ultimate sacrifice as John Brown did in the 1800’s.


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